Young adult literature featuring LGBTQ+ characters is booming. In the 1980s and 1990s, only a handful of such titles were published every year. Recently, these numbers have soared to over one hundred annual releases. Queer characters are also appearing more frequently in film, on television, and in video games. This explosion of queer representation, however, has prompted new forms of longstanding cultural anxieties about adolescent sexuality. What makes for a good “coming out” story? Will increased queer representation in young people’s media teach adolescents the right lessons and help queer teens live better, happier lives? What if these stories harm young people instead of helping them?
In Queer Anxieties of Young Adult Literature and Culture (UP of Mississippi, 2020), Derritt Mason considers these questions through a range of popular media, including an assortment of young adult books; Caper in the Castro, the first-ever queer video game; online fan communities; and popular television series Glee and Big Mouth. Mason argues themes that generate the most anxiety about adolescent culture—queer visibility, risk taking, HIV/AIDS, dystopia and horror, and the promise that “It Gets Better” and the threat that it might not—challenge us to rethink how we read and engage with young people’s media. Instead of imagining queer young adult literature as a subgenre defined by its visibly queer characters, Mason proposes that we see “queer YA” as a body of transmedia texts with blurry boundaries, one that coheres around affect—specifically, anxiety—instead of content.
Derritt Mason is associate professor of English at the University of Calgary. He is coeditor of Queer as Camp: Essays on Summer, Style, and Sexuality.
John Marszalek III is author of Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet: Same-Sex Couples in Mississippi (2020, University Press of Mississippi). He is clinical faculty of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at Southern New Hampshire University. Website: Johnmarszalek3.com Twitter: @marsjf3